Far too often people approach Blackness through a deficit model. But what I’ve learned from my family and community is Black joy, and that expansion isn’t just for Black people. That’s for everyone, so that we think about the expansive nature of possibility in how we imagine community, and how we imagine each other across time and space.
Lisa M. Coleman, PhD
Executive Director, Office of Institutional Diversity (2007–2009)
Director, Africana Center (1999–2007)
“The reality is that without Bernie [Harleston], there is no me, literally. Because without Bernie setting the stage, there’s no moment for the entry of people like me… people like Marilyn Glater, Pearl Robinson, and Gerald Gill.” This legacy of Black leaders who challenged the boundaries at Tufts and of Black staff and faculty who insisted on interdisciplinarity continue to ensure the expansion of Black joy and opportunity at our university today.
Lisa Coleman grew up in a house filled with music—and with many role models of Black excellence, including her uncle, a fire chief, her mother, a computer scientist, and her godmother, a lab scientist. Even though her family was not wealthy financially, she was nourished by a wealth of culture and education from a young age. “There was joy in the ways in which people expressed themselves, the ways they thought about community; and, as a result, they saw themselves as expanding Blackness, expanding the possibilities for future generations,” she says.
In 1999, Coleman became director of the Africana Center at Tufts, citing among her inspirations Bobbie Knable, Marilyn Glater, and Gerald Gill, and the tradition of education and service they cultivated at the university. In response to persistent student protests and demands at Tufts that had originated some years before her arrival, Coleman hit the ground running and mapped out ways to support students and engage faculty, staff, and alumni. Among her many contributions were revamping the weekend orientation program for first-year students by introducing films such as Black Is, Black Ain’t and creating the first film series focused on diasporic Black cultures and intersectionality. The film series featured “Afro-Latinx people, people who were gay and Black and Latinx, Afro-Asians, and Afro-Caribbean people, for example,” Coleman recalls, “and all of these kinds of intersections ... allowed us to expand student and faculty conversations and research about identity, and [to] build and broaden alumni collaborations.”
In reflecting on the inheritance of Black leadership at Tufts and the power of its ongoing legacy, Coleman says that “the reality is that without Bernie [Harleston], there is no me, literally. Bernie created the pathways for people like Marilyn Glater, Pearl Robinson, and Gerald Gill, and without this legacy, my appointment would not have happened.” Such leadership involves “generational work,” she says.
Coleman was appointed the first Executive Director of the newly created Office of Institutional Diversity in 2007. This position was the precursor to the current Chief Diversity Officer positions we have today. After 10 years at Tufts, Coleman was named Chief Diversity Officer at Harvard University. She is currently the inaugural senior vice president for global inclusion and strategic innovation at New York University.